My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: gadget

“The Crying Bowl”

Noise Jockey explores a resonating body.

The singing bowl is one of the major proto-ambient instruments. A bowl, rubbed or struck, emits a purely tonal sound that has no attack — no hard starting point, as would a struck guitar string or a piano key — and that sound, in turn, lingers for a long time. Noise Jockey has used a variety of electronic tools and performance techniques to update and amplify the singing bowl. His “The Crying Bowl” turns an everyday salad bowl into an otherworldly vehicle for tonal expression. In this case, the bowl is serving less as an instrument unto itself and more as an amplifier, providing, in Noise Jockey’s words, the “resonant body” from which the source audio emanates.

That source audio is from a gorgeous touch-sensitive instrument called the Tocante Phashi, designed by Peter Blasser of Ciat-Lonbarde, and pictured here. The Phasi, along with other instruments in the Tocante line, employs capacitors (the exposed circuit board) to control a large number of oscillators. It also has a built-in solar panel for charging its internal battery.


Track originally posted at More from Noise Jockey, aka Nathan Moody of San Francisco, at,, and Phasi image from

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Strain and Grain

C. Reider returns to the cassette-tape loop


C. Reider’s Tape Loops, recently released on Linear Obsessional Recordings, returns him to an early favorite media of his, after many years spent in the digital world. The media is magnetic tape, which Reider, who’s based in Colorado, once enjoyed as a participant in the mail-art network.

He revisits what was long ago an everyday technology as something today of an archival and arcane one (though there is a growing number of cassette labels in recent years). There was a physical release of this album, true to its inspiration. That combined a CDR, which was a spiritual grandchild of the cassette, with hand-engineered cassettes that contained a loop. Even though the physical edition is sold out, the digital release is a rewarding one all on its own. It’s a series of looped compositions, half an hour in all. The strain and grain of the tape is evident in every piece, bits of noise, and orchestral glimmering, and vocal warbles, all pieced together amid an overarching mechanical sensibility.

An annotation to the album provides some additional context:

Getting deep into the process and working with thrift-store cassettes he uses a number of radical techniques to create his tape loops, including lengthening the tape, shredding it, making new tapes from tiny fragments and reassembling them.

The resulting piece is a haunting and mesmeric meditation on the texture of sound recorded on magnetic tape and is one or reider’s most powerful works to date.

A booklet accompanying the release gets into more detail. Here’s an excerpt:

Some of my experiments involved extending the length of the loop inside the shell. When making a loop housed in a standard tape shell, the filament can’t be too slack or too tight. If it’s too slack, it will get caught in the playback mechanism resulting in the tape being “eaten” (is that how they say it outside of the US?) If too tight the loop just won’t play back. Normally, I would loop the tape around the two tape guide rollers and the two reels inside the re- used tape shells, requiring a strand of tape 9.125 inches in length. That would result in a loop that comes back to the splice point every 5 seconds when played back at the normal speed of 1.875 inches per second. The physical barriers inside the shell dictate the length of the loop. To shorten or lengthen a loop one has to remove or provide more barriers around which the tape will pass. I found that if there were a bunch of new barriers inside the shell, the tape makes a turn at each one (imagine a serpentine fan belt in a car,) meaning more length can fit. More length equals more time. To add barriers, I drilled holes through one side of the cassette shell, and pressed through pieces of PTFE Teflon rod to give me pivot points around which to guide the tape. The most complicated of my pivot-point alterations had the tape traveling around nine different points resulting in a tape length of 19 inches that looped every 10 seconds.

As with most techniques I use in my sound practice, the process of these modifications were easy to do in terms of technique, but they did require some amount of patience and mindfulness.

Audio originally posted at More from Reider at,, and


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Immediacy + Accessibility = Joy

The past and future of mobile music — a conversation with with founder Ashley Elsdon

Finger Painting: A hand interacts with the innovative Borderlands Granular iPad app

Finger Painting: A hand interacts with the innovative Borderlands Granular iPad app

One of the great resources for mobile music — from iPad apps to small new gadgets — is the website For almost a decade, Ashley Elsdon has tracked, and participated in, the development of mobile audio, from full-blown digital workstations to casual entertainment, what here on is often referred to as “audio-games.”

Elsdon graciously submitted to an interview, which we did over a few weeks as a collaborative Google Drive document. The discussion ranges from the early sonic hacking of the now ancient PalmPilot to the museum-approved devices from Teenage Engineering. In between we touch on old-school manufacturers such as Korg and Roland adapting their hardware for use as software, Elsdon’s own efforts to use mobile tech to aid those with learning disabilities, as well as his and my mutual disappointment that — so far, at least — mobile music has not yet become a general-public form of entertainment, even as it has become a massive force in professional and home-based music production.

Marc Weidenbaum: I want to start with the name of your site, The word “palm” is in it because it started in relation to the making of music on the Palm Pilot, right — what later became “Palm OS”?

Ashley Elsdon: You’re right there. It did start as a result of making music on Palm OS devices. This came about because I started using a Palm III a long time ago, mostly for getting myself organised. But as I started to get used to the device I realised just how much these little computers could do and what a vast community there was for them (which is sadly all but gone). Eventually I stumbled into looking into the musical capabilities of the Palm OS. Back in the late 1990s it was, to say the least, minimal, but it was there. A site called “” had started developing some notation and sequencing apps for the Palm OS (although back then we didn’t call them apps) and I started playing with these. But even then this was quite a while before Palm Sounds started. As Palm OS evolved, a new app arrived called Bhajis Loops, which was, and in fact still is, one of the best mobile music making apps ever, in my opinion. I spent a lot of time with that app.

The Palm III , introduced in 1998

Memento Mori: The Palm III , introduced in 1998

It wasn’t long after that I started to write Palm Sounds. I was experimenting with blogging about a bunch of different subjects, and making music on mobile devices was the one that really stuck for me. I was actually quite surprised that people were interested in such a niche subject. But they were, and people started to contact me about mobile music, and things have just continued from there. The rest is history as they say.

Substance Over Stylus: Screen interfaces for the Palm software Bhaji Loops, the work of Olivier Gillet

Substance Over Stylus: Screen interfaces for the Palm software Bhaji Loops, the work of Olivier Gillet, later of Mutable Instruments

Weidenbaum: What year was that around? Could you provide a general timeline for major milestones for the site’s development?

Elsdon: Hmm, actually, that’s quite difficult. The site started off in 2006, but as for milestones I can’t remember much I’m afraid.

Weidenbaum: I feel like the word “palm” right now works as a good synonym for “mobile,” because we have some distance from Palm OS’s onetime ubiquity. Was there a time when you considered changing the name?

Elsdon: In fact I did, and a lot of people talked to me about changing the name. Some people were quite vocal as well. In the end I decided against it as I just didn’t think it was worth it. Palm Sounds grew out of the Palm OS and the musical apps that were around back then. However, it did occur to me that Palm was also a good way to describe handheld music making, so I stuck with it, and in hindsight I’m glad that I did. So much of mobile music has become about iOS that it’s sort of become the only thing that people talk about and I’ve always wanted Palm Sounds to be about more than just one operating system, or one technology. So I think that Palm Sounds is still a good name and is more about mobile music in its most general sense, rather than just iOS. Read more »

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This Week in Sound: Aphex ^N, Household Ghosts,

A lightly annotated clipping service



  • APHEX ^N: We’re 10 days from the first anniversary of the publication of my book in the 33 1/3 series on Aphex Twin’s landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Volume II. I’m excited that it was one of the five best-selling volumes in the series last year, and I’m also overwhelmed at what a difference a year makes. Aphex Twin was mostly a memory when I researched and wrote the book, and for many months following the book’s release. He hadn’t released a full-length album in well over a decade. Just about everyone I spoke with about him spoke of him in the past tense. And then last fall he — Richard D. James — came, quite suddenly, out of hiding. He announced his reappearance with a blimp over London; released a widely acclaimed album, Syro; and filled a SoundCloud account with dozens of previously unreleased music. Then that account ( when dark, though two new tracks have recently appeared. The first of those two new tracks announced the arrival of a new post-Syro EP, the excellent downtempo set Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2. And then came, where he has been posting dozens upon dozens of previously unreleased tracks. There were 110 tracks attributed to user48736353001 as of a few days ago, and then another 20 popped up today. And as if that weren’t enough, a mysterious new account associated with it,, has 15 tracks — so far. (I’ve been informed via a conversation on that folks deep in the Aphex well are under the impression Somadril is a friend of Aphex, not him.)

  • GHOST-IN-THE-HOME MACHINES: Geoff Manaugh writes at New Scientist about the ways technology maintains our presence in our absence, for the purposes of home safety: “For example, there are already albums of background noise available to make it sound as if someone is rummaging through the refrigerator or watching TV in the other room. One collection specifically promises ‘hundreds of professionally recorded interior house sounds to give the realistic impression that someone is at home’. It won’t be long before audio effects such as these are integrated directly into a FakeTV-like system, playing deceptive sounds through hidden speakers in an otherwise empty house or apartment.” Once upon a time we might have used simple timers on lamps to do the job, and at more paranoid moments I did hook timers up to radios for the effect that Manaugh describes. The commercialization of such activities makes one wonder what’s ahead. William Gibson tells us the street finds its own uses for things. What uses will the home find? (Thanks,, for the tip.)

  • PLAYLISTS OF YOUR YOUTH: The new web service — I write out the full URL because “” doesn’t immediately announce itself as a web address — provides you with playlists tagged to various moments in your life. You enter your birthday — today, February 3, happens to be my half birthday, and my late paternal grandmother’s birthday — and it pumps out what was playing (in the U.S.) when you were born, and when you entered first grade and second grade, and when you graduated from high school, and so on. Well, not “and so on” for very long. Interestingly, it ends when you graduate from college — the presumption, likely correct, is that once you enter the work force what is playing on the radio is less likely to correspond with your actual life. One demerit: only goes back to 1950, which leaves plenty of room for my memories, but not for everyone’s — and not for many curious listeners who might wonder what was a hit before your mother was born.

This first appeared in the February 3, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter:

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Playing with Fire (Alarms)

A sound art project in 9 volts by Jeff Kolar


Few of us ever really take or have the time to consider the sonic nuances of a smoke alarm. We’re either too busy exiting the building or, more often, yanking the 9V battery when the boiling pasta has set the thing off. But characteristically curious Jeff Kolar has lowered the everyday gadget’s volume and applied to it his sonic microscope, yielding five tracks of high-pitched tones heard from various perspectives. The tracks are labeled with successive narrative aspects: “Ignition,” “Flame,” “Growth,” “Fully Developed,” and “Decay.”

There may be no sound more capable of getting someone’s attention than a smoke alarm, except perhaps for a crying baby. But in Kolar’s hands they are less piercing than insinuating. The shrill, sharp noises warp and layer and bend, each sequence suggesting itself as nanotech minimalism, from the bright chirp with which “Fully Developed” opens, to the ticking drone of “Flame,” to the tea-kettle anxiety of “Decay”. The effort is a work of audio forensics. In time, you come to understand the functional sonic components of the classic alarm, perhaps to even reflect a bit on this blissfully mundane aspect of life or death situations. It’s almost enough to make you linger the next time a smoke alarm goes off — but please exit the building before making sound art about it.


Tracks originally posted at The piece was part of the glitChicago exhibit that ran during August and September of 2014, and was produced by Kolar during his residency at ACRE. More on the project at Smoke Detector CD, complete with its great “As Seen on TV” cover, via Twitter image via

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